Tuesday, January 15, 2019

What the Hill? An AP All-Pro Team Oddity

By John Turney

Peter King of NBC's Football Morning In America wrote his reasoning why he left Antonio Brown off of his All-Pro ballot and that led to some online acrimony, not much of it justified, but whatever, King can vote for whomever he chooses.

Yesterday he posted his ballot for the AP All-Pro team:

As you can see he voted for Taysom Hill of the Saints, who we also picked as our special teams maven.

However, what we found odd is that Taysom Hill didn't get any votes for special teams, according to the AP release of January 4, 2019.

About the same time as the King/Brown brouhaha, there was some consternation about Tyreek Hill getting six votes as a special teamer even though he only returned kicks and was not a coverage guy. The special teams player is almost always a core special teams player who covers kicks and punts.

Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk wrote this:

So, the obvious question is where did his Taysom Hill vote go? Was it omitted? Was it lumped in with Tyreek Hill's special team votes? If so, were there other votes that were meant for Taysom Hill tallied for Tyreek Hill?

We don't know but we do know Taysom Hill should have had at least one vote—Peter King's.

TUESDAY TIDBITS: Championship Sunday

By TJ Troup
Was honored to have Steve Sabol write the foreword in my first book. He stated that I was able to tell stories using stats. Still attempting to do that, yet sometimes the numbers don't come out the way that I expected them to. Example you ask? Last year before championship Sunday my column stated that the team that scored the first touchdown wins 78% of the time. Then both the Vikings and Jaguars scored the first touchdown and lost.

Still, a win percentage that high is still a key factor. Let's see if the stat holds true this coming Sunday. There are folks who make predictions, and attempt to analyze the games each week—and a few of them actually know what they are talking about. This column is not about predictions, yet there are times when I feel strongly about which team will play well and win. Sent a number of emails last week stating emphatically that the Los Angeles Rams would be more physical and run the ball well against an over rated front seven of Dallas.

That said, for a moment let us review the games of last weekend overall, and define what aspect is most important to advance in the play-offs. The New Orleans Saints offense moved the chains to record 25 first downs last Sunday, and the 25 is the least amount of first downs by any of the winning teams. Kansas City had 29, while the Patriots and Rams had 30. The winning teams last weekend combined to gain 745 yards rushing, while the losers gained just 205. So, running is key to victory? No, no, and no. Moving the chains is key to victory.

We all know it is a passing league, and the four winning quarterbacks last Sunday are all viewed as top-notch; possibly great. Having coached for much of my life can tell you that a balanced offense that DICTATES to the defense is a key to victory. The final component is one that everyone talks about yet is almost impossible to predict; TURNOVERS. Drew Brees turned the ball over first play of the game, and the Saints did not turn it over again the rest of the game. The Chiefs turned the ball over once also, but again the Rams & Patriots stand at the head of the class—NO TURNOVERS. For those of us who having no "rooting" interest we want to see quality competitive football on championship Sunday, and hopefully we will get it.
There will be lots of analysis of the teams during the week, yet for me the history is still most interesting. After the merger the Chiefs played the Patriots just three times during the decade of the '70's and just once in the '80's. These two teams have never really had a rivalry, yet one game between the two still stands out to me, and if you can see the footage of this game you will understand why. Friday night November the 3rd, 1961 the Dallas Texans are at Nickerson Field to play the Boston Patriots. Boston wins with a goal-line stand when a fan dashes into the end zone to help "break up" a Texan pass play. Rest assured that won't happen Sunday evening against the Chiefs.
The merger brought about the alignment of what teams were to be placed in what division. Rozelle and his staff did an admirable job with the exception of the NFC West. San Francisco and Los Angeles; a no brainer, got to have them together, but placing Atlanta and New Orleans in the west always struck me as strange. So, the Rams played the Saints twice a year for a many years, and though there were a few memorable games, only ONCE have they met in the post season. Faulk and Bruce shined as receivers that day for the St. Louis Rams, but New Orleans led late. The Saints punt, and Az-Zahir-Hakim muffs the ball, and the Saints take possession with less than two minutes left. We all have thoughts on what is most important, and would relish hearing from all of you. What is the number one factor in the games this Sunday? Rushing? Passing? Sacks? Turnovers? Or a fan dashing into the end zone to break up a pass play?

Sunday, January 13, 2019

R.I.P. Bob Kuechenberg—The Prototype Guard

By John Turney
Credit: Alain Moreau
In the 1970s there were quite a few All-Pro guards and there was stiff competition for the All-Pro and Pro Bowl slots, and often Bob Kuechneberg was overlooked, though he did garner some post-season honors—Just not as many as Larry Little, Tom Mack, Joe DeLamielleure, Gene Upshaw and John Hannah (all Hall of Famers).

Still, many of those, namely Joe D and Hannah will say to this day that it was Bob Keuchenberg they patterned their styles after. The will cite his run blocking, trap blocking and pass protection as being ideal. "Kooch" kept his balance at all times and wouldn't lunge and "whiff" on a defender. He was a technically proficient guard and that will always be his legacy since he's yet to be voted to the Hall of Fame.

Kuechenberg passed away yesterday at age 71.

He also leaves a legacy of playing hurt, having stepped on the field with a broken arm and even with a fracture in his back. He also had quite a few other things for which he can be remembered

From 1970 through 1983 the Dolphins running backs averaged 4.29 yards per carry. That is Number 1 in the NFL for that 14-year period. In that same exact time frame, the Dolphins allowed the fewest number of sacks in the NFL (1.86 sacks allowed per game).

During that same period, the Dolphins had the best winning percentage in professional sports (70.3%) and went to four Super Bowls, winning two.

During that same period, Kuechenberg graded out in film sessions as #1 or #2 every year, according to Kooch.

Here are some more nuggets:

Friday, January 11, 2019

Most Yards From Scrimmage, Per 16 games, NFL History Among Running Backs (Min: 40 games)

By John Turney
Not that the season has ended, it allows us to update various charts we keep. In this case, it's the yards from scrimmage per 16 games by running backs. He cut it off at 40 games which is about three seasons or so in the old days.

We thank Pro Football Reference for the data, though we had to tweak it here and there:
Ezekial Elliott and Le'Veon Bell are on the top, though Bell didn't play in 2018. 

Earl Campbell—An Incredible 52-Game Run

By John Turney

Art Credit by Dan Stromme
Some players sustain their greatness for long periods of time, like Walter Payton for example. Others, like the Tyler Rose, only had about 3½ seasons of greatness and some other good years.

Credit to Pro Football Reference for charts:

From the beginning of 1978 through the first six weeks of 1981 Earl Campbell had rushed for 5779 yards with a 4.8 yards per carry average. His per-16 game average was 1778 yards and 15 touchdowns. It was about as good as you could find. Here are a couple of examples:  Jim Brown, after 52 games totaled 5370 yards and Eric Dickerson slighty outdistanced Campbell with 5877 yards in his first 52 games.

However, there a wall was hit. His running style punished defenders but also took a toll on his own body. From week seven of 1981 to the end of his career his 16-game average was 921 yards a season and a 3.7 yards per carry average. 

Here is a chart showing the most rushing yards after 52 games. (Interestingly Ezekiel Elliott is on the list even though he's only played 40 games. If he tears it up in the first 12 games of the 2019 season he has a chance to crack the top 5 on this list.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

TUESDAY TIDBITS: The Most Anticipated Weekend of the Season.

By TJ Troup
Words have meaning, and as such when thinking of a title for this week's column—thought about using the word best instead of anticipated. Problem is we don't know how competitive the games will be? Can easily write about league history (my wheelhouse), and so will start there and tie into the first game on Saturday.

January 12th, 1969 is a day that for those of us that watched the game will remember forever. Some folks have attempted to re-evaluate the game since the Jets won convincingly. How strong were they really? Were the Colts over rated? etc.
The aftermath is fascinating due to Shula leaving and what he built in Miami, but this segment is about the Colts and Chiefs. Monday night football in 1970 week two brings two veterans (old) quarterbacks onto the national TV screen; Len Dawson and Johnny Unitas.

The Kansas City defense led by Bobby Bell and hopefully future Hall of Famer Johnny Robinson(his best game ever) crushed Baltimore. The Chiefs did not make the play-offs in '70, and Baltimore rebounded to win it all.

Over the last forty-nine years these teams have not met that often in the regular season, but in the playoffs, it has been all Colts. Much will be written this week about two quarterbacks that combined for 89 touchdown passes during the regular season. Evaluating the Chiefs defense does not take long, and coach Reich and his staff will no doubt have a game plan that looks to feast against Kansas City both in the air and on the ground.

The Chiefs have allowed 388 yards a game on defense and given the ball away nine times in the games they have won. They have proven they can get to the quarterback, yet the Colts outstanding o-line does not give up sacks very often. When Kansas City loses they allow a whopping 456 yards a game, and have given away the ball nine times. Kansas City had a defensive passer rating of 92.7 which is basically the league average.

If the Chiefs advance, they will be the worst defense ever to advance to a championship game, and if they lose again to the Colts at home due to a balanced Indianapolis attack—well we all know what will be written concerning Andy Reid, and Bob Sutton. Lance Alworth is 78 years old, and he was one of the many offensive heroes against a Patriots defense in '63. Next Sunday in Foxboro many questions will be answered concerning just how strong is the 2018 version of New England? We all know the names of the main men, and the successful history of this team since 2001—can they do it again?

Gus Bradley's "out of the box" defensive game plan for the Ravens was well executed; yet the question is simple? You got one for Tommy B.? Then almost as important, can your young defenders make it work?

My apologies to Saints & Eagles fans, as this column does not have anything for you. That does not mean I will pass up this game; by the fourth playoff game who knows how many Dr. Pepper's I will have had to go with my smokehouse almonds.
Will end with the Cowboys and Rams, and boy oh boy lots to share here. So much is perspective, and where to begin? The 1962 Rams are one of the worst teams of the decade of the '60's and were very poorly coached. The '62 Cowboys could not stop anyone as they continued to struggle under brilliant dedicated Tom Landry.
Dallas easily beat Los Angeles in '62 in one of the few victories they had that year. Boy did that change in the '70's & '80's as they met many times in the play-offs(eight times in thirteen years). Can you hear the NFL Films music? Picture Jack Youngblood sailing over Roger Staubach, Eric Dickerson pulling away from the Cowboy defensive backs, and finally Roger the Dodger flipping to a wide-open Preston Pearson for his diving catch in the end zone.

Living in Orange County for over 50 years and having so many friends that were Rams fans—they HATED Dallas (and to a lesser extent Minnesota). January 7th, 1979 and we are looking live at the Coliseum as Brent use to say for the NFC Championship.

The defending SB Champion Cowboys look to avenge the regular season loss to the Rams, and join the great teams of all-time by taking home the silver trophy for a second consecutive season. Can shut my eyes and picture my girl friend at the time in her Ram t-shirt so genuinely excited to see her boy Jack Youngblood and the rest of her heroes beat the damn Cowboys.

This is early in my coaching career, and of course, I rambled on about tendencies, nuances, and match-ups—not sure if Susan Emily heard a word I said? Half-time and is zero, zero. Los Angeles survived the first half, and was all Dallas in the second half. Hollywood Henderson prances, and I mean PRANCES 68 yards for a score with an interception, beguiling the Rams with his finger to chase him.

Yes, Susan Emily had a tears in her eyes at the close of the game, and could not console her with the fact that my boys in black & gold with former Colonist Gerry Mullins would destroy Dallas to win the trophy. Ok, story time down memory lane over.

McVay will have an offensive game plan for the Cowboys that they have not seen this year, and though Kris Richard will try and have his boys ready—this will be a daunting task. Wade Phillips has a pass rush, but can they limit Zeke on the ground? If Dallas is trailing by over a touchdown late do they keep feeding him the ball? Both teams are very average on pass defense: Dallas 95.7 and Los Angeles 93.7 so which secondary rises to the occasion and pilfers a few passes? Should be a fun weekend of football; get the Dr. Pepper ready?

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Anatomy of a Hold. Or Not.

By John Turney

It is a bit of a controversy. What you ask? This play where All-Pro rookie guard Quenton Nelson took down Jadeveon Clowney. Impressive in game-action speed. But when you see the hand placement of Nelson you start to ask questions.

In the Twitter debate we took sides, and strongly suggest the play in question was a non-call hold. To show hand and feet placement we used stills (for which we were chided). But we know that coaches film has rewind and freezeframe because full speed does not allow for careful study.

We saw the play live and loved it, only out of the corner of our eye did we see JJ Watt swat the pass down on the play. But as we reviewed the play we say the hold.

Anatomy of a hold: It's pretty clear what happened. Clowney was a stand-up three-technique and took his initial charger upfield then planted to go inside of Nelson, to the A-Gap. He "beat the drum" with his hands, stepped left and beat Nelson across his face. Nelson's hands were low and his 'punch' missed. Clowney's long right arm was inside Nelson's and he went for Nelson's right wrist.

However, he missed there and Nelson's right arm when around Clowney, grabbing him just about where the bottom of the '9' is on the back of his jersey. Clowney continues to set up the swim with his left hand on the guard's right shoulder and began to bring his arm over the top, but Nelson's grab pulled Clowney too close to execute the move. Here the holding should have been called.

Nelson's right arm impeded Clowney's inside and forward motion. His hand was not only outside the frame of the body, but it was also around the back. We were scolded that "Just because the hands are outside the frame of the body does not mean it's holding".  Yes, that is true. But it doesn't mean there is not holding either.

If you look at the film (and we hole the All-22's end zone view will be from behind the Texans defense because it will show the lateral movement of Clowney, from the outside shoulder of the (in B-Gap) guard to the A-Gap.

You can see the replays in full speed Here and Here.

Here are the stills:

Look, the is no indictment of Nelson, who is All-Pro. Nor are we simply carrying water for Clowney or the Texans. But even All-Pros are capable of holding. Nelson was flagged six times in regular season, once in playoff game and then there was this non-call. We think he's got John Hannah-like run blocking skills and is getting better in pass protection.

But fair is fair. Using this play as a showing of dominance is folly. Nelson's short set failed, Clowney got across his face and Nelson, knew he was beaten, grabbed on Clowney. They wrestled for a heartbeat and fell over the center and right guard to the ground, with Clowney's back leading the way. 

Why wasn't it called? No idea. Did the ref see it? Have the refs been good this year? But whether a play is called holding or not is sometimes because of chance. 

But don't try and say stills don't matter. Why in the world does the NFL use instant replay for reviewing close plays? Do they look at it only in game speed? Or do they look at it in slow montion? Or even stop the tape?  Multiple angles?  Yes, all of that.

We did the same.

We no show the All-22 endzone view:
And here are the stills, so we can so fame-by-frame the hands and how the wrestling move employed put Clowney on his back in a so-called "pancake" The question isn't IF there was a hold, but when, on this play, was there NOT a hold?